P.E.I. snow clearing companies increase rates due to record-high inflation, diesel prices
CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI — As PEI continues to see record-high inflation, those who want their driveway cleared when it snows may be paying a little more than years ago.
While diesel prices fell five cents a liter on December 7, fuel costs are still more than a dollar higher than December 2021. Given these increased fuel costs, some snow removal companies will charge more for the 2022-23 winter season.
“It’s probably the first season I’ve really been scared. I’ve raised my prices, but I don’t know if I’ve raised enough because of the price of diesel,” said Gary Nicholson of Dickiesons Snow Removal in Charlottetown.
Nicholson said his company operates a fleet of 20 tractors each year and estimates it will cost between $400 and $500 to fill each with diesel. Though he’s raised his rates for the year, recent swings in fuel costs could cause problems mid-season, Nicholson said.
“Diesel can go up $0.25 overnight and that can win you or break you,” he said.
Like many other snow removal companies, Nicholson mostly calculates the season in advance. That means if costs skyrocket mid-season, he’ll likely just have to deal with that.
“It’s hard to go back to people and get more money,” he said. “When you have a thousand entries, that’s a lot of work to put back and get, so maybe you just have to bite the bullet and raise (the price) next year.”
Nicholson said his clients understood the rate hike for the most part, but he received a few calls asking why they were rising.
“I was just telling them, have you been to the grocery store recently? Bought petrol recently?” he said.
Aside from increasing his tariffs, Nicholson has also reduced the area in which he operates and has withdrawn from Cornwall and Meadowbank to make the business more efficient, he said.
“I had a tractor out there, but I basically sold that area to another guy that’s out there,” he said.
“If I break down out there, it can take two to three hours for a tractor to come in for replacement. It was just too hard for the head so I skipped that area. I’ve been trying to get rid of a few areas so I’m basically just in the Brighton area at the moment.”
Though he doesn’t work in as many areas as he used to, Nicholson said he’s trying to hire more people in the areas he does to complement the change.
Nicholson’s company isn’t the only snow removal company making changes for the upcoming season. Costs have also increased for Wayne Biggar, owner and operator of Biggar’s Snow Removal in Summerside.
“Plain and simple, we’re up 25 percent to keep up with inflation overall, so that’s our gain for the year,” he said.
Biggar, who owns and runs the business with his two brothers, said he’s a little lucky compared to other larger companies in terms of cost as he doesn’t have any employees other than himself and his brothers.
“If you’re a larger company with fewer tractors and fewer employees, you have to consider your costs,” he said. “You have to pay your workers because if you don’t have someone good, you’re going to end up with repairs, damage and liabilities. I haven’t, so I just go and do my thing.”
Biggar said despite the increased costs, he has a comfortable client list and is bracing for another typical Summerside season.
“It works out 17 times every year (that we’re out) here in Summerside,” he said. “Charlottetown sometimes has different weather, so I can’t speak for them. I’ve noticed that some days we go out and they don’t and vice versa.”
Nicholson said he was almost ready for the first real snowfall of the year.
“I still have some tweaking to do, but we’re good to go,” he said.
Cody McEachern is an economics reporter for the SaltWire Network on Prince Edward Island. He can be reached by email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @CodyInHiFi.